Continent has a new special issue dedicated to issues of repair, maintenance, and breakdown, processes and politics central to discard studies. While the framework for “R3pair Volume” is technology and its social life after something has been designed (and has broken!), the issues of material and materiality, visibility and invisibility, and order will be familiar to those who study waste, trash, and rubbish.
The role of repair in discard studies is becoming more important as we have recognized the core similarities between waste (“matter out of place” and the efforts to order that matter and those places) with repair: “how we organize to sustain technologies across time, charting formations of labor that catalyze around recuperating social and material order” (Letter from the Editors, R3pair Volume). Editors of the special issue argue that:
For the last 5, 10, 20 or 100 years (pick your starting point!), a motley and heterogeneous band of thinkers from Europe, North America, and the world have grown suspicious of the stories we tell about objects as stable and therefore rather settled things (whose drama, if any, inheres only at moments of design); and the way these stories render invisible a whole range of human relationships with and to objects that turn out to be central to sustaining the worlds around us, however provisional.
This introduction could be about waste and wasting just as easily as it could be about repair and technological dysfunction. We leave it to you, readers, to find other similarities and points of convergence between discard and repair.
“R3pair Volume” table of contents:
|Letter from the Editors|
|Lara Houston, Daniela K Rosner, Steven J. Jackson, Jamie Allen|
We are called, as always, to “build a new world in the shell of the old”. The price and fetish of novelty, in ideas as in technical systems, is a blind ahistoricism and wasteful obsolescence that may have gotten us into “this mess” in the first place. Can we come instead in the name of repair and maintenance, and not to make or originate? There is much work to be done, dear readers. Let us begin, again.
|“Lifetime Issues”: Temporal Relations of Design and Maintenance|
Design and maintenance, as categories, are related through their presumed contrasting temporalities. What do we learn about these purifications as they play out over the course of a technological object’s lifetime? Drawing on fieldwork examining the operations of a longstanding spacecraft, Cohn exposes definitions of repair and design through their temporal and affective alignment.
|Beyond breakdown: Exploring Regimes of Maintenance|
|Jérôme Denis, David Pontille|
|What does it mean to care for things, and how is care-work organized and accomplished? What can these practices tell us about our treatment of order and breakdown? Jérôme Denis and David Pontille expose two regimes of maintenance: one in which things are sustained through invisible and often specialized labor, and another where the vulnerability of things is made a shared concern.|
|Sonic Breakdown, Extinction and Memory|
|Sound cements our experience of spaces and secures our intimacies with objects. Audio cassette recordings were once always everywhere preluded by the plasticky rustlings of cases and tape reels. The sounds of obsolete technologies — steam engines, to dot matrix printers, 16mm projectors and modems chart a sonic extinction, a kind of Silent Spring wrought by technological ravenousness for “the new”.|
|Repair and Software: Updates, Obsolescence, and Mobile Culture’s Operating Systems|
The status of “the object” in the digital age is elusive and ambiguous, ambivalent and indistinct. How do categories like “the app”, and their operating systems, enact and refigure longstanding industrial questions around obsolescence (planned and otherwise)? Jason Farman and multiple generations of iPhones reflect this, and other questions, as object lessons of care and attention.
The abrupt removal or failure of infrastructures interrupts organisational functions worn smooth by habituation and reliance. How do organizations cope and new practices emerge in the aftermath of shuttered programs? Thinking through the wake of an ambitious telehealth system, Brittany Fiore-Garland explores the problems and possibilities of residue.
|Maintaining, Repairing and Caring for the Multiple Subject|
|How does repair facilitate the production and maintenance of cyborg bodies? How is care enacted through the mundane forms of repair involved in the day-to-day experience of living with Type 1 diabetes? Laura Forlano reflects on the experience of the user-repairer, and the forms of “broken-body thinking” that living with chronic conditions requires.|
|Lettres du Voyant|
In an excerpt from Louis Henderson’s 2013 film “Lettres du Voyant (Visionary Letters)”, we visit three sites that speak directly to maintenance and repair (and lack thereof), and are reminded that we need to be invested in the maintenance and repair of our relations with the world.
|Hardware Porn or Itinerancy?|
|Can we reimagine repair as a journey, and technicians as travelers, between concrete physical circuitry and messages with meaning – ‘the differences that make a difference’ – for eyes, ears, and fingers? David Gauthier’s video segments recast repair people as wayfinders, peripatetic travelers through the high- and low-level complexities of material, technical systems.|
|The Sustainable University: Repair as Maintenance and Transformation|
|Christopher R. Henke|
|Is repair inherently conservative, or can it operate in a more radically transformative mode? Chris Henke reflects on the forms of growth and resilience imagined under university sustainability initiatives, and outlines two divergent possibilities: repair as maintenance, and repair as transformation.|
|Bugs in the War Room|
|Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter|
How did we imagine the “Year 2000”? What visions of interruption, failure and breakdown shaped our experiences of repair leading up to the new millennium? Artist Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter’s “Bugs in the War Room” explores the mythologies of breakdown, dependencies and contingencies in the lead up to Y2K.
|The Timeliness of Repair|
|Temporal formulations are commonplace in how we describe and make sense of repair. Working through cases of mobile phone repair in Kampala, Uganda, Lara Houston shows how conceptualizing repair as a form of differentiation rather than simple ‘return’ to functionality opens up a series of different temporal horizons, that entangle devices, materials and environments.|
|Josh Lepawsky, Max Liboiron, Arn Keeling, Charles Mather|
What precisely is assembled when people and things are brought together through repair? What if we approached repair as a fundamentally spatial act, caught up in the workings and reworkings of places through time? Drawing on varied sites and circumstances, Josh Lepawsky, Max Liboiron, Arn Keeling, and Charlie Mather explore the underexamined links between the politics of repair and the politics of space.
|Kristina Lindström, Åsa Ståhl|
What does it mean to live with new and challenging forms of hybrid matter? What happens when plastics become part of nature (and vice versa)? And what would a ragpicker and composter make of these questions? A speculative fabulation by Kristina Lindstrom and Asa Stahl investigates.
|We can imagine other futures and identities for discarded electronics beyond waste, abandonment, and decay. We might even imagine them as as alive, inquisitive, filled with potential and personality. Multimedia artist Taezoo Park explores these and other questions as he reflects and shares works from his series, “Digital Being”.|
|The rub and chafe of maintenance and repair|
Is there a politics of affect of repair? What are the analytic gains and dangers attached to the connections between maintenance and repair work and feminist-inspired theories of care? Reflecting on his work with long-term research programs in ecology and AIDS research, David Ribes asks if attending to repair as care may obscure important political questions around the setup and limits of maintenance work.
|A Beautiful Oops|
|Daniela K. Rosner|
|What would it mean to begin and end objects with repair? And what kinds of relationships emerge from the cracks in between? Rosner reflects on a project of kintsugi, examining the aesthetics of breaking and reassembling cracked ceramic forms with new possibilities at the seams.|
|Making Technological Timelines: Anticipatory Repair and Testing in High Performance Scientific Computing|
|Is repair only reactive, a response to emergent breakdown and failure? Or can it be predictive, projecting and imagining into the future? Drawing from the world of high performance computing at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Benjamin Sims examines the nature of anticipatory repair, and its crucial role in sustaining systems that are too big (or important) to fail.|
|The Longest Lightbulb|
The constant, monotonic growth presumed by contemporary corporatism encourages fragile modes of operation and disposable end products. Products that last point towards futures that oppose the continual ballooning of economic incentive. The Centennial Light Bulb is a boundary object for epochs of care, a flashpoint that marks a historic change in the tensions between temporal resilience and economic gain.
|Maintenance as Romance: Recuperating Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance|
|How can we move beyond innovation policy and “innovation speak” towards a more balanced, generative and inclusive understanding of technology and culture? Can alternative approaches get us back to the value (yes, even the romance) of maintenance? Lee Vinsel hitches a ride on Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to show us how.|